Breakdown: Why balloons are important weather tools

Breakdown: Why balloons are important weather tools

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - NOAA’s National Weather Service has launched balloons since the 1930s to collect temperature, humidity and other data in the upper atmosphere. These balloons are launched from the ground and they sail through the troposphere and stratosphere. They give meteorologists a snapshot into the varying weather in our atmosphere.

According to the National Weather Service, twice a day every day of the year, weather balloons are released simultaneously from nearly 900 locations worldwide. This includes the 92 released by the National Weather Service in the U.S. and its territories.

A typical flight of a balloon lasts around two hours and can drift as far away as 125 miles from the launch point; it can also rise over 100,000 ft or 20 miles into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The balloons are made of latex or synthetic rubber and are filled with either hydrogen or helium to help in its flight. The balloon is only about .051 mm thick and will be only .0025 mm thick when it finally bursts. The balloons will start at around 6 feet wide before being released and can expand up to 20 feet in diameter.

Attached to the balloon is a device called a radiosonde. It measures pressure, temperature and relative humidity as it moves upward through the atmosphere. The instrument often interacts with temperatures as cold as -195 degrees Fahrenheit, relative humidity between 0% and 100%, air pressures only few thousandths of what is found on the Earth’s surface, ice, rain, thunderstorms and wind speeds of nearly 200 mph.

This important data is used in weather models and helps meteorologists across the country forecast the weather.

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